Category Archives: #reminiscences

25 years

Twenty-five years ago this week, I was singing daily at Westminster Abbey in London.  I was soloist with the mixed choir from Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, on a tour of Scotland and England, culminating in a week-long residency at Westminster Abbey.

We had sung at the Abbey on Monday and Tuesday, then had Wednesday off.  Twenty-five years ago, this day was a Thursday.

And on this Thursday 25 years ago, after singing Evensong, and the vergers closed the Abbey, the choir broke into two groups and had a guided tour of the Abbey.  No others present. Just us and the ghosts and the saints.

Our tour took more than an hour.  Then the guides said to us “Stay as long as you’d like.  We have a late prayer service at 10 p.m.”  So in the twilight (the sun did not set until 10 p.m. or so) I wandered the Abbey and visited the monuments for people who were already important in my life — Handel, Purcell, Stanford, Vaughan Williams.

I explored the family chapels, the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor, the graves of Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I.  The incredible Mary Chapel.

But most importantly for me, I stopped for a long time at the grave of Herbert Howells.  (Just search this blog for Howells!) To be alone with him for those few minutes, in the quiet of the Abbey, was a powerfully emotional, even transcendental experience.

Howells, Vaughan Williams, and Stanford, all together in eternal rest at Westminster Abbey.

Three days later I sang his Westminster Abbey service, and Vaughan Williams’ “Lord, thou has been our refuge,” just steps away from their graves in that north choir aisle.  And barely made it through the emotions.

Every subsequent visit to the Abbey has included a moment of quiet at HH’s grave.  I hope to visit once again before I too am gone.


I love my jobs.

I just love my jobs.

Teaching. Composing. Sitting at the piano for hours every day.

Could life be better than this . . . moving the needle in other people’s lives?

A TBT photo, from 20+ years ago, when I was an adjunct professor at a community college in Kansas City, even then working with others for greater good:

2019 in pictures

And now abide (according to these photos):  family, faith, friends, travel, MUSIC, Circus Harmony, Variety, cooking, Auggie, the garden, and Webster University.  That pretty much sums it up.

2019 holiday letter

December 2019

Dear friends and family around the world:

The Christmas tree is decorated.  Candles are lit.  The house is increasingly scented with the warm spices of the holiday season.

And while all is not well in the world, all is calm here on Lawn Place.

I began the year on sabbatical, and now end the year in a frantic rush to finish a major accreditation report at the office.  The private studio has exploded in a lovely and fulfilling way.  My circus composing is going well. And I am loving working with the Variety kids.  Fulfilling is indeed the watchword.

As I near 60 years old, I’ve made some decisions about what the next few years are going to entail.  More on this as it unfolds and becomes real.  The great news here is that I’m figuring out how my contributions to my profession and community are maturing, strengthening, and broadening, and that makes me very happy indeed.

Virginia the Landlady, JC, Dean Peter Sargent

So changes are coming, and are present as well.  Peter Sargent retired in July after being the only fine arts dean Webster has ever had, and I now have a new boss.  Sadly, Peter died just a few weeks ago.  His death has left me in a well of grief for a father-figure and mentor I loved deeply.

One of the realizations this year: my life is enriched by a web of acquaintances of various degrees of closeness, without whom life would be infinitely less interesting and connected.  The New York Times earlier this year posted an article about how people with a robust group of acquaintances are generally happier.  Circus Harmony and Variety has helped me fill some of these gaps.  The brief conversations with parents of my private students add to connection as well.  And I’m grateful!

Travel this year included not one but two trips to Morocco. I enjoyed the first trip so much I grabbed my friend Kevin and went back again a few months later.  I’ve had some Chicago time, two trips to Washington, D.C., several NYC trips, and a bit of time in Lee’s Summit.

We are all getting a bit older.  My sisters and I are all in our 50s.  Karen is a grandmother twice-over now.  Beth has only one of her three children still in public schools.  JoAnne, our father’s widow, is now in a care center, and her home (the one she shared with Pop until his death) is now on the sales block.  Change is a constant.

With my sisters.

I’ve taken numerous cooking classes this year.  Sourdough bread has been a favorite, with a starter I’ve somehow kept alive.  A cooking class in Tangier was a delight too.

The Variety Chorus finished our Spring season with a performance with Sting in April! And my circus music was hit in January.

I’ve seen a TON of shows this year!

And this summer I said ‘see you later’ to three much-loved students:

Students fill my life with joy!

I had two incredible meals this year, one in Tangier, the other at a Cuban place in DC:

And finally, some of the circus kids have become my adopted family here in Saint Louis.  The Bailey brothers helped me celebrate my birthday this year, and their family has become a fixed point for me.

This holiday season is a time of darkness and expectation, light and hope.  May the light be victorious, and may we all enjoy blessings during this season.


#Reminiscences: snow day

Webster University closed early on Monday, at 11 a.m., for a snow day. Road conditions were ugly.

I didn’t leave campus until 3 p.m., since I went ahead and taught a lesson, met with the Dean, and took care of office work.

But I’m mindful of snow days past.

One year, when I was still living upstairs at the house on Wingate in Lee’s Summit (I moved downstairs to the basement in 9th grade) the ice was so bad that school was out for three days, and we were without power for at least overnight. That much I can remember. My sisters had bunk beds; I had a 3/4 bed. And we all bunked into my bed together to keep each other warm under plenty of blanketing.

1971. Lee’s Summit. The home on Wingate, in Briarcroft subdivision.

Funny that I don’t have much recollection of snow days as a kid. We would have taken the sled outdoors and played in the snow, of course. At some point there were snowmen, and one year I remember we made a snow fort of sorts.

Several years back, we had such a snow/ice/chill in Saint Louis that school was cancelled for two days. I knew about the call-off early enough that I decided to watch the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy on three consecutive nights, and I did.

Looking north toward the 40/64 interchange and the Barnes Hospital complex.

But the worst snow-days in memory occurred in January 2005. A perfect storm of ice hit a twenty-mile-wide swath of Indiana. We had been warned to expect that power would go out. And it did. For four days. I weathered the first night in my steadily-chilling condo. Even the next morning the hot water heater was still hot enough to take a quick shower. But the temperatures stayed cold for the whole time, and I found myself a room at the campus hotel at Ball State.

And as I write, I’m really puzzled that I don’t remember snow days from growing up. But how could I remember this snow from 1965?  I was three and a half years old—


Ah well.


Thirty years

  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Thirty years.  I remember it so well.  My own life was in huge transition at that time — moving to a broader religious viewpoint, embracing gray rather than solely black/white, coming out, finding my path as an adult, carving out a place as a musician.

And then the Wall fell.  I knew even then that this was momentous, symbolic, and hugely important.

Yet we continue to build walls . . . .